Small businesses are starting to replace employee PCs with tablets and smartphones — and they're saving time and money, while helping employees be more customer-responsive.
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In the spring of 2010, when the Apple iPad was released with overwhelming fanfare, analysts and pundits across the board quickly dismissed its business relevance. True, it was a groundbreaking information access and entertainment device, but that was the extent of it, many said. Yet today, large companies such as Roche, United Airlines, Medtronic and Sears have deployed thousands of the devices among their workforces.
The newer story is that smaller companies with high percentages of mobile employees and an affinity for cloud apps can feasibly run their entire businesses on tablets and phones.
What's made this viable is the large number of business tools and apps now available for tablets, the prevalence of cloud-based services for rote, PC-intensive tasks such as invoicing and billing, and business-friendly add-ons such as wireless keyboards and digital pens for users who hate small touch-screen typing. The Microsoft Surface tablet, the first to offer a built-in keyboard, hit stores in late October, promising to further grow interest in business tablets.
Businesses transition to tablets
Doug Grabowski used to be a "big Windows PC guy" but is now a tablet devotee. He and the handful of employees at Ubiquitour, a managed tech services company he founded, use iPads and smartphones heavily during the workday.
In fact, he's ditched his beloved laptop altogether. He uses a Bluetooth keyboard and Pages on his iPad for light word processing, such as writing and editing proposals. He still needed his PC, however, for managing financials and QuickBooks. To solve that problem, he loaded an old PC with QuickBooks and Office and uses PocketCloud Remote Desktop to dial in and view company financials using his iPad. He’ll also be moving his company to the Web-based version of QuickBooks soon, he says.
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“I’ve built my own dashboard on the tablet so I can see all status updates on my clients and I can remote into their environment to help out with a problem if needed," he adds. Moving away from his clunky laptop has helped his business grow in surprising ways. When he walks into meetings with prospects and quickly gets to his desktop and client desktops using only his Android phone or the iPad, the prospects want to know how they can do it too, he says.
Grabowski sees a growing trend in businesses toward investing in the latest tablet technologies instead of buying new laptops: "I think for $800, the Surface is going to clean up in the enterprise.”
Even though the lower cost of purchase and maintenance was a big reason why companies initially invested in tablets over PCs, productivity is becoming the more intriguing incentive. For a client of Phil Bush, president of CMIT Solutions of Denver, money wasn't a consideration in purchasing Windows slate tablets several months ago. “What they loved was they could run all their business apps, such as Oracle and Excel, on the tablet,” says Bush. The tablets ran much faster than their PCs, and users could also write on them — a perfect fit for the client’s project management business.
PCs aren’t obsolete just yet …
Other small companies, such as Development Management Associates (DMA), a Chicago-based commercial developer, issue iPads to employees, yet aren't yet abandoning PCs. “We use tablets as a bridge between the smartphone and laptop,” says Jason Westrope, development manager with DMA. “They’re not replacing desktops, which are still the workhorses, but when we’re in the field, the tablet gives us a lot of agility and is helpful when reviewing large visual documents like floor plans.”
The firm’s architects and engineers use the Evernote Penultimate app to mark up PDF drawings, and all employees love having access to their Outlook email and calendars from the tablets. To provide secure remote access to desktop files and apps from the tablet, DMA also uses PocketCloud Remote Desktop.
Westrope loves how the tablets have enabled him to save time doing repetitive tasks. "If I have my iPad with me on a job site, I can take a photo with it, save it to a file, mark it up if needed and then e-mail it to an architect in just a few minutes," he says. That efficiency frees up small yet valuable chunks of time, which he uses to inspect a project site or talk to a client.
Replacing PCs with tablets and phones won't work for every business or employee. But for salespeople, executives, project managers, field workers and other employees who are highly mobile and customer-facing, shedding clunky PCs for lighter and faster devices could help their companies get to the next level.